According to Jakob Nielsen, iPad user interfaces have improved in the past year. Yet, there is still room for further advancement.

The usability expert has now released iPad Usability: Year One, a usability review of the popular tablet device. While it’s rare for the usability of a product or object to change so dramatically in such a short amount of time, it’s safe to say that the iPad, or tablet technology for that matter, isn’t just any product. Its development has continued to advance so quickly that, since its launch in 2010, the iPad has changed how we consume and interact with news, entertainment and each other.

Last year, Nielsen reviewed the iPad's usability and found that many changes to the user experience were needed. Overall, he found that users were confused by functionality, which he described as low discoverability, low memorability and accidental activation. This year, much of that has improved. Many apps have realized that the actions they wanted users to take weren’t always obvious or intuitive and updated the design accordingly.

In the new study, Nielsen tested 26 iPad apps and six websites with 16 participants, with an equal of amount men and women. Compared to last year’s findings, it found that:

  • Websites worked better in the standard iPad browser as long as users didn't have complex tasks -- for example, reading and looking at pictures or video was relatively easy
  • Users found it hard to type on the touch screen and avoided registration processes as a result
  • Accidental activation was still an issue; unintended touches again caused trouble, particularly in apps lacking a Back button

In addition, Nielsen’s test group identified a few new issues that could use more work, including:

  • Swipe ambiguity: When multiple items on the same screen could be swiped, many users couldn't turn the page or navigate successfully because they swiped in the wrong spot, which led them to believe that the app was broken.
  • Too much navigation: Apps that squeezed too much information into a small space, making it hard to navigate or causing content popovers.

The new usability study also shed light on the primary uses of the iPad. The most common uses reported by participants were playing games, checking email and social networking sites, watching videos/movies, and reading news. Users also reported browsing the Web and performed some shopping-related research, yet acknowledged that it was easier to shop from their desktop or laptop computers.

As the iPad continues to evolve, developers and designers are encouraged to make the quality of the user experience better. As users become more familiar with mobile interfaces, it is likely that many of these issues will resolve themselves, while increasing the demand for more advanced functionality.